United alone in pursuit of Valencia

English champions front runners as Real Madrid show little interest in Wigan winger
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The Independent Online

Manchester United seem to have a clear run if they follow up their informal inquiry about Wigan Athletic's Antonio Valencia with a firm offer, with the player's representatives no longer optimistic about Real Madrid coming in with a bid.

Real did table a bid in January but that was under the presidency of Vicente Boluda, at a time when then manager Juande Ramos was hiring English-based players and Valencia's agent Diego Herrera expressed some doubt that Florentino Perez would be back again. "The only official [offer] from Real Madrid for Antonio was last January," Herrera said. "The offer came from the previous president but Florentino is over there now so I don't know if they are going to go for him again."

The departure of Steve Bruce from Wigan has convinced Valencia that it is time to leave the club. "It is the right time for him to leave, now that the manager has left. He feels it is time to move on," said Herrera, who will speak to Wigan this week and travel to Lancashire next week, though Valencia has not been given the kind of encouragement about United's phone call to trigger contact with his agent.

Perez's desire for acquisitions shows no sign of abating with David Villa also now in his sights – denying John Terry the signing he wanted for Chelsea and City chief executive Garry Cook one of his own foremost targets. Sources close to Perez claimed yesterday that £33m had secured Villa's services. The add-ons for Villa winning trophies could take the eventual price closer to £40m. Villa's personal preference for staying in Spain looks to have swayed him Madrid's way.

Villa will join Kaka as the second of five promised Real Madrid signings and yesterday the Brazilian admitted it was David Beckham that helped him choose Real. "I spoke with a lot of ex-Madrid player such as Beckham and they told me what a marvellous club it was. Everyone said it would be a great move," the £59m signing said after his move to the Bernabeu from Milan.

United must now wait to see what Perez may do with regard to Cristiano Ronaldo. There is a school of thought within Spain that the purported interest in Bayern Munich's Franck Ribéry is a means to flush a transfer request out of the Portuguese. Perez said: "I will do everything possible to get Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid."

But he appeared to pour cold water on suggestions that Liverpool's Xabi Alonso could be on his way. "He is a great player but he plays in a big team and I haven't heard that they plan to sell him," he said. "It's obvious [Liverpool manager Rafa] Benitez is counting on keeping him. He's a good player and it wouldn't be easy to replace him."

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